THE TEACHERS EDITION -- November 7, 2013

The Teachers Edition


November 7, 2013  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

Students at Duke Ellington High School

Students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts (Washington, D.C.) engage in core subjects with the latest technology. 


U.S. Report Card Improves

The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores are out, and there is cause for optimism as students continue to show growth in reading and math overall and in most subgroups. For example, eighth grade reading scores--which have been flat over the last decade--have risen. Achievement among the largest minority group—Hispanic students—is also up, and higher-achieving students are making more progress than in previous years.

Another encouraging sign: While progress on the NAEP varies by state, each of the states that had implemented the state-crafted Common Core State Standards at the time of the 2013 NAEP assessment showed improvement in at least one of the (reading and/or math) assessments—and none had declining scores.

The NAEP is the only nationally representative, continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in school. NAEP assessments are given at the fourth, eighth and twelfth grades in reading, mathematics, science, writing and other subjects. The bulk of this year's NAEP data is available electronically here


Honoring Their Service

During the days before and after Veterans Day (November 11), students and teachers celebrate the service of all U.S. military veterans. Some invite veterans into their classrooms to share their experiences and teach lessons about the history and significance of Veterans Day. This teacher resource guide offers tools to help students reflect upon the importance of the ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy.  


ED to Hold Public Hearings on Higher Ed

As part of a plan to help students make informed decisions about where to go to college, how to manage their college debt, and how to cut costs and improve the quality of higher education, the Department is developing a college ratings system. Recently ED announced opportunities for the general public to interact with Department officials about the ratings system. The public and the broader education community have been invited to share their ideas about how to develop the ratings and address the key themes of college access, affordability and outcomes. The first event was held at California State University Dominguez Hills Nov. 6. Others are planned at these locations.

  • George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Nov. 13
  • University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Nov. 15
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., on Nov. 21 

“Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America. If we don’t do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come,” said Arne Duncan. "One of the best ways to address the challenges to our higher education system is through shared input.” Learn more

TEACH Thunderclap


Make Noise for Teaching!

Educators can celebrate their profession and help the TEACH coalition recruit the next generation of talented teachers by signing up for the TEACH Thunderclap. The Thunderclap is an online flash mob designed to encourage today’s students to become tomorrow’s teachers. Educators can sign up today to have a message posted to their social channels on Monday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m. EST, during American Education Week. While you are at it, check out the videos of teachers describing why they love teaching and asking prospects if they are up for the challenge to lead, inspire and innovate in the classroom. 

Still from Ask Arne Video

TAF Joiselle Cunningham introduces the latest "Ask Arne" video as the Secretary heads to his office to answer questions from teachers. 


Arne: "Never a Mandate"

Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) Joiselle Cunningham recently sat down with Arne Duncan to pose questions she and other Fellows heard from teachers during their September bus tour in the Southwest. The two discuss a number of issues on teachers' minds in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Southern California.

When Cunningham asks Duncan about whether or not the federal government required states to base 50% of a teacher's evaluation on student achievement data, Duncan said, "[Fifty percent] was never a mandate. Never has been. And never will be." Duncan also said he was less interested in absolute scores than on whether or not students are improving and that we have to look at multiple factors to measure teaching effectiveness. 

Duncan and Cunningham also talked about the government shutdown and about the need for teachers to be better supported through professional development. Duncan admitted, "Teachers are not getting the support that they need." Watch the video. Send your questions for the "Ask Arne" series by using #AskArne on Twitter.


The Changing Face of Teachers

Education researchers Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch have published a study examining the changing face of the teaching workforce (Education Next). They examine data sets from numerous studies to analyze trends and answer these questions: How has the academic caliber of new teachers changed over the last two decades? Has the policy emphasis on teacher quality led more academically talented people into the teacher workforce, or have accountability reforms driven talent away? Their conclusions provide some interesting reading and encouraging news, as students who do well in college are more likely to become teachers than they were 20 years ago.



Talking Turkey (and Culture and History)

The National Endowment for the Humanities offers a virtual cornucopia of resources for teaching children about First Americans in an accurate historical context, while emphasizing their continuing presence and influence within the United States. On EDSITEment, educators can check out Debbie Reese’s “Teaching Young Children about Native Americans.” BEST site has a high school unit plan for teaching Native American literature and the ALAN Review offers an interesting article about the pedagogy of using Native American literature as part of a well-rounded curriculum, The Voices of Power and the Power of Voices: Teaching with Native American Literature. The National Poetry Foundation provides a selection of poems and articles exploring the Native American experience in a poem sampler. Moyers and Co. provides video of a 2012 interview with Native American writer and poet (and teen favorite) Sherman Alexie about “living outside the cultural borders."

For Thanksgiving resources, the Library of Congress has a Thanksgiving primary source set and a teachers’ guideclassroom activities to teach about the Founding Fathers’ Thanksgiving, and materials to teach themes about Colonial Americans. The Smithsonian provides resources from the National Museum of the American Indian, including a teacher’s guide for “American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving” and information in “Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth.”

Students mix it up at lunch.

Students Mix it Up in 2011 at Catholic Preparatory High School in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo credit: Valerie Downes.)


Students Mix it Up at Lunch

Last week students at more than 6,000 schools across the country joined together to help break down social and racial barriers by participating in the 12th annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day

The event, organized by Teaching Tolerance, encourages students to sit with someone new in the cafeteria for just one day. Cafeterias are the focus of the program because a school’s social boundaries are most obvious there. Breaking down these barriers can help reduce bullying and create a school environment that is safe and welcoming for all students.

Did You Know?

In 1970, there were three percent fewer tenth graders than ninth graders; by 2000, that share had risen to 11 percent.

From a report published jointly by Princeton and Brookings (Nield). Read related research published in Education (McCallumore and Sparapani) and a nice analysis of the research by Michele Willens in the Atlantic


Quote to Note

How to Retain Teachers: Listen to Them

“Those schools that do a far better job of managing and coping with and responding to student behavioral issues have far better teacher retention,” he says. And, in both public and private schools, “buildings in which teachers have more say—their voice counts—have distinctly better teacher retention.”

Researcher and former teacher Richard Ingersoll in story that profiles him and his work, "Why Do Teachers Quit?" (Riggs, Atlantic).


Nominate an Excellent Science or Math Teacher!

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program has opened nominations for the 2013-2014 award year. Anyone – principals, teachers, parents, students, or other members of the public – may nominate exceptional mathematics or science teachers who are currently teaching grades K-6 grade. Learn more and submit a nomination by completing the form available on Teachers may also self-nominate.

The PAEMST are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science (including computer science) teaching. They were established by Congress in 1983, and the President is authorized to bestow up to 108 awards each year. Among other accolades, winners receive a trip for two to Washington, D.C. and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.



Local Champions of Change 

(Kara Eckert, Shaler Area School District assistant to the superintendent, and Superintendent Wes Shipley pose with the Champions of Change award presented to Eckert for her work with the district’s technology initiatives.)

Apparently, the White House isn't the only one to have a Champions of Change event. Shaler Area School District, in Allegheny County, Pa. is recognizing educators for their efforts to increase technology initiatives. Kara Eckert, assistant to the superintendent, was named one of the 2013 Champions of Change. The award, presented during this October’s Connected Educator Month, celebrated Eckert’s work with teachers and administrators to write and receive grants for large technology initiatives. Rosanne Javorsky, assistant executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Teaching and Learning Division, describes Eckert as “one of those people who has a vision of what education can be.” 

Common Core Connections

LIBRARIANS NEEDED TO SUPPORT CORE LEARNING. The Common Core State Standards place new emphasis on students developing good research skills. A Cabinet Report article finds that districts in California are regretting decisions to slash jobs for teacher librarians in recent years (Marovich). Read more.

DIVERSE LEARNERS AND THE COMMON CORE. A recently released Education Week report highlights how teachers adapt the Common Core State Standards for students with disabilities, English-learners and gifted students. Read, "Moving Beyond the Mainstream: Helping Diverse Learners Master the Common Core" online.

I'm First video


On Becoming "a First"

In this video Arne Duncan encourages students who will be the first in their family to go to college to get ready now. The brief clip provides inspiration for potential first-generation college grads and information about what students can do now to pay for college.

Read an ACT report with sobering statistics about first-generation college goers. It indicates:

• Nearly all first-generation students (94%) report that they aspire to earn a post secondary degree.
• 52% of first-generation students met none of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.
• Only 9% of first-generation students met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

Principal Chat

CHECK YOUR SCHOOL E-MAIL TOO MUCH? Elementary Principal Peter DeWitt offers some common sense for school leaders and teachers for whom e-mail has become more of a priority “than face-to-face interactions.” For those who obsessively check their email even on evenings and weekends, DeWitt encourages making a change in patterns and setting e-boundaries. Learn more in Education Week.

p chat


Apply for Global Teacher Fellowship

Applications for the Rural Trust's Global Teacher Fellowship program are now open. Teachers and other academic personnel working in a rural or small town school may apply for fellowships for self-designed summer learning experiences based in international travel. While you are at it, check out the October issue of Rural Policy Matters


TNTP Seeks Superlative Teachers in High-Need Schools 

TNTP, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that all students get excellent teachers, opened the third annual application period for the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. The prestigious award is given to four public school teachers a year who demonstrate exceptionally effective teaching with students from high-poverty communities.

Winners each receive $25,000 and a six-week summer residency experience with TNTP. It is one of the largest monetary awards for practicing teachers in the nation, and the only one that exclusively honors teachers of low-income students. Nominations and applications may be submitted online.

In 2013, four winners were selected from more than 570 applicants in 42 states. During the summer, the winners traveled to New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC, to reflect critically on their classroom practices, converse with education leaders including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and write Going Deep, a collection of personal essays on the practice of effective teaching. To learn more about the winners’ experience, see today’s post on the TNTP blog, authored by 2013 winner Javier Velazquez.

the New Math

Athletes Improve Their Academic Game

• Division I student-athletes who entered college in 2006 earned their degrees at a rate of 82%, the highest ever recorded. 

• The most recent one-year graduation figures are bolstered by football student-athletes competing in the Football Bowl Subdivision, who had a 71% graduation success rate, and African-American men’s basketball players, who had a 68% rate – the highest-ever for those groups. 

 (Source: National Collegiate Athletic Association)


‘Flipped’ PD

Education Week (Flanigan) investigates Minnesota’s Stillwater Area Public Schools flipped professional development model. Stillwater started Flipped PD in 2011-2012 after meeting with 200 classroom teachers and specialists in small groups to coach and train educators on individual projects.


Flipped PD offers face-to-face support, personalized online resources, and how-to videos for teachers and leaders to embed technology within curriculum. Educators are seeing immediate results. Anna Wilcek teaches at Andersen Elementary School and learned how to “edit student-shot movies in iMovie, export them into iBooks Author, and post the finished products on her website for downloading.” Michael Dronen, Stillwater’s technology director, suggests that change takes time. "It's not unlike asking someone without any training to walk out on a tightrope," he says. "But once you're on the rope and have those basic skills, it's a really thrilling place to be. And it allows for deep reformational changes."

TAF News

• CHERI ISGREEN (Classroom Fellow 2008-09) has been working as the Education Specialist for Your True Nature, writing curriculum related to environmental education, character education, and writing. Pilots of her lessons were tested in the classrooms of Teaching Ambassador Fellows who also served in previous cohorts, including Lisa Coates' (Classroom Fellow 2010-11) writing program and Tammy Schrader's (Classroom Fellow 2008-09) middle school science program.

• GREG MULLENHOLZ (Washington Fellow 2011-2012) was featured in an Education Week article discussing strategies to move beyond drive-by parent-teacher conferences and engage in authentic conversations with families (Silberman).

• Principal DEIRDRA GRODE (Classroom Fellow 2009-10) had a moving experience recently at Hoboken Charter School (N.J.). Last week she, her staff and 198 students finally returned to their newly remodeled school, 13 months after a brutal fire devastated the school’s building. Read the story in the NY Daily News (Walsh).

Tools for Students

EARLY LEARNING ELL. Check out HITN's (Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network) Early Learning Collaborative featuring Pocoyo, a cartoon celebrity among preschoolers. This Ready to Learn grantee offers literacy and math resources for families and educators, as well as a soon-to-be released app focusing on English Language Acquisition.  

Students' Corner

JOIN THE DEBATE: SHOULD HIGH SCHOOL LAST SIX YEARS? Students and teachers might want to read a NY Times article weigh in on the debate over this controversial topic online.

INTERNSHIPS AT ED. The U.S. Department of Education is accepting applications for internships during the winter and spring of 2014. Students may apply to work in Washington, DC or in any of the Department's other nine regional offices. Learn more

Turnaround Tales: Stories from the School Turnaround Learning Community

Washington School Makes Big Improvements

In just two years, students at Lakeridge Elementary School (Marysville, Wash.) have made impressive progress after being identified by the state as a school in need of improvement and receiving a federal School Improvement Grant. Teachers and leaders saw fifth grade math scores climb 35 percent and reading scores jump 25 percent--with similar results in third and fourth grade. 

Reporter Sarah Kehoe reports that one reason for the shift is that teachers have been given more time to engage in effective professional development and that teachers meet regularly to discuss how they can apply their knowledge in the classroom (Renton Reporter). Though standardized tests are used regularly, she reports, "Teachers gauge improvements based on meeting with each student individually and watching how they conceptualize math problems or reading." Read the article


Multiple College "Swirling" Students 

Politico Morning Education reports that an estimated 11 percent of students enroll in more than one college during the same semester or academic term. A recent study by the Journal of the American Educational Research Association finds that co-enrolling in multiple colleges at once can aid the students' chances of staying in school and graduating and earning a degree. This finding holds true for students who begin at both two-year and four-year colleges. Read the study.  

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• BREAKING DOWN EMERGING MODELS OF E-LEARNING. In their report Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency Education, iNACOL'Susan PatrickKathryn Kennedy and Allison Powell break down instructional models of personalized learning and blended learning. They also elaborate on design principles, contrast personalized learning with other models such as competency-based learning, and cite emerging evidence from the field.

• KNOCKING ON DOORS, BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS. Reconnect to Graduate is an initiative in the Waterloo (Iowa) school districts that trains volunteers to go door-to-door and bring back the lost--not to church, but to school. They seek out students who have dropped out, encouraging them to return to school and explaining their options. Read a U.S. News & World Report story about Erin Byford, who at age 17 dropped out and wanted to return but feared the stigma of being labeled a dropout by her peers. When she was 19, someone from the Waterloo program persuaded her to return and graduate. Since Oct. 1, 60 students have re-enrolled.

• STRICTLY SPEAKING. This interesting (and cathartic) editorial by Alan Borsuk about the importance of having a positive school culture with high expectations for the conduct (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). The piece includes interesting observations: "I've been in classrooms where the pursuit of order took huge chunks of time away from the pursuit of education." Borsuk also identifies practices that contribute to a positive culture, including the "zero to four" strategy for acceptable noise volume and KIPP's "SLANT" approach for classroom behavior.  

• CLASSROOM CHRONICLES. Teachers may be interested in the Classroom Chronicles website published by the Tennessee Department of Education. Exhorting educators, "Every teacher has a story to tell. We want to hear yours," the site's content models respect for educators and offers them a menu of rich inspirational and informative content that celebrates successes and hones the skills of teachers and leaders. A number of articles are worth checking out no matter where your school is located, including What Makes them Great: Best Practices at Reward SchoolsUsing TVAAS Data for Student Goal Setting20 Things Every Tennessee Teacher Should Know about the PARCC Assessmentand many articles about teachers and programs that are working. 

• REPORT ON HOW SEQUESTER AFFECTS SCHOOLS. The House Democrats recently published a report indicating how sequestration cuts affect programs for students. Among the cut programs are Title I grants for low-income schools, mental health and substance abuse services, financial aid for college (including work study programs); Impact Aid, after-school, before school and summer programs, among early childhood and special education programs

• ONCE UNDOCUMENTED, NOW AN IMMIGRANT ADVOCATE. This blog tells the story of immigrant Angelo Mathay, who left the Philippines when he was six years old. Though he and his mother faced many struggles as undocumented immigrants, his experience and his belief in education, hard work, and persistence will give hope to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and others in the country who believe “Now is the time for us to fix our country’s broken immigration system.” Currently, Asian immigrants make up 11% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, living and working in the shadows, unable to fully participate in our society. (Learn more.) 

ELL video

In Katie Langois's class, students with intermediate English fluency build skills through their teacher's use of effective scaffolding and other techniques included in a pilot program in Denver, Colo. 


Series Offers Instructional Insights to Teach ELL

This Teaching Company video walks viewers through a series of middle-school lessons by teachers Katie Langlois and Emily Park-Friend. Each of the five lessons lasts a week and guides students through a Common Core unit for her English Language Learners (ELLs) called "Analyzing Persuasion through Time and Space" using a rich variety of texts that include contemporary advertising and speeches made during the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the video, Aída Walqui (WestEd) and George Bunch (Univ. of Calif. Santa Cruz) provide commentary about the teachers’ approach, expanding on strategies that are most effective with students who have demonstrated intermediate proficiency in English. Over seven lessons, the teachers ask students to interact with texts of increasing complexity, to build knowledge, and to discuss their ideas with other students, and write using language in meaningful and creative ways. The video is part of a six-video series on instructional supports to engage ELLs. Learn more about how the “handful of middle school teachers in Denver became among the first to test drive a new, rigorous English/language arts unit designed for English-language learners” (Maxwell, Education Week).

open book

Recommended Reading

WRITING IS THINKING. Education blogger Natalie Wexler writes about her observations while tutoring in a high-poverty school in Washington, D.C. and raises a concern that many students lack basic skills in grammar and writing. Wexler contends that the problems go deeper than ignorance of the conventions of grammar and spelling or how to write a paragraph that works. Even worse, students don’t know how to construct logical arguments using evidence. “These aren’t just writing skills,” writes Wexler. “These are thinking skills of the type the students will need to succeed in college, on the job or even just to dispute a charge on a credit card bill — and to knowledgeably exercise their right to vote.” Read her editorial in the Washington Post.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. Teacher and America Achieves Fellow Jill Johnson believes that all schools can make dramatic learning gains and close achievement gaps. However, this math and science teacher at Urban Promise Academy (Oakland, Calif.) would like education leaders and policymakers to understand that “take it to scale” does not mean, “one size fits all.” She argues that promising new programs can make a significant difference only when interventions are tailored to meet the needs of the school community. Johnson writes, “Scaling success, like good teaching, is best done through a series of individualized interventions working towards one goal, with built in supports and accountability along the way.” Read more

EIGHT ESSENTIAL PD QUESTIONS. Learning Forward's Stephanie Hirsh offers teachers eight questions they can ask when evaluating the quality and fit of their professional development options. Her tips also serve as advice to principals and districts about what kinds of professional learning best serves teachers' growth. 

Send questions or comments about THE TEACHERS EDITION to

Student teacher at a TEACH event.

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. Reflecting on pressure he is feeling to not assign low grades, including Ds and Fs: ". . . evaluations are tools of teacher and administrator accountability. I take no issue with that. We should be held accountable for our instruction. The problem is that there is no enforced student accountability or parent accountability." (Teacher, Roswell, N.M.)

4.  “Many still believe collaboration is a sign of weakness when, in fact, the work done to create collaborative working environments is far more difficult to achieve than the other positional, adversarial model.” (Stephanie, on the blog)

3. "As a Tennessee teacher, it is disheartening for me to personally know valedictorians from our schools who must take remedial courses when they enter college. Why are even our top-performing students unprepared for the rigors of college?" (Teacher, Tenn.)

2. “Collaboration is a priority and it’s probably the #1 reason for my school’s success.” (Elementary Principal in a turnaround school, Baltimore, Md.)

1. "I spend 2 to 3 hours working after school every day. After 19 years of teaching, this job is harder than it has ever been." (Teacher, Ky.)